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Elton rides in to open soccer halt
The historic opening of Watford Stadium rail station in December 1982. That's Elton John hanging out of the train.
With all the current interest in the Croxley Rail Link, I thought it would be a good idea to look back on the last time a new rail station opened in the area – the Watford Stadium station, which was opened by Watford FC’s “flamboyant rock star chairman” Elton John in December 1982.
Elton, born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in Pinner in 1947, is a lifelong supporter (in every way) of the club and had the previous week performed a sell-out concert in front of about 1,500 fans at Watford Town Hall to raise funds for Hornets striker Ross Jenkins, in his testimonial year.
The gig, in which Elton brought the full touring crew and equipment with him (though not the whole sound system) was, he told the Watford Observer at the time, “like a bonus for me”. At the time he was selling out vast arenas all over the world.
But back to the rail station. It was only open on match days, and this report, from the back page of the Watford Observer of December 10, 1982, reveals how it was crowd trouble – sadly not uncommon at the time – which inspired its opening:
“Match-day crowd control problems could be over now that the new soccer halt has been opened close to Watford Football Club’s Vicarage Road stadium.
“The club’s flamboyant rock star chairman Elton John broke off from his mammoth concert tour to ride into the new ‘station’ on the first train with a host of dignatories and open what has been dubbed Hooligan Halt.
“The historic opening did not go without a hitch. The train rolled into the Watford Stadium halt five minutes late after being held up by television cameramen at Watford Junction.
“After the train broke the symbolic yellow, black and red tape, which was tied across the track, Elton said: ‘The halt should go a long way to ending Watford’s hooligan problem. It is a marvellous day for the club.’
“He was presented with a memorial plaque by Lord Aberdare, the chairman of the Football Trust which contributed £50,000 towards the cost of the development.
“Lord Aberdare said: ‘The Football Trust commends the initiative of Watford Football Club in tackling the problem of hooliganism in this imaginative way.
“The purpose of the new station is to provide a means of keeping supporters of visiting teams away from Watford town centre and separated from Watford’s own fans.
“‘We were much impressed by the support given for the station by local police, Watford Borough Council and by British Rail,’ he said.
“The borough council laid out £80,000 for the halt while the football club spent £50,000 and the balance of £200,000 cost was paid by British Rail.
“The Mayor of Watford, Councillor Ted Amey, and the town’s MP, Tristan Garel-Jones, were also at the opening ceremony.
“Less than three hours after the official opening, hordes of Manchester United fans passed through the station to provide what must have been the biggest test of the season.
“Council leader Fred Hodgson said: ‘We had hoped to get the station open for the beginning of the season but that was not to be. It is nice to have it open in time for the Manchester United game.
“The success of the halt was confirmed when police announced there were only six arrests during the afternoon and they came after an incident inside the ground.”
The game that day, incidentally, ended in defeat for the Hornets, beaten 1-0 in front of a crowd of more than 25,000, thanks to a goal by Norman Whiteside. As for the station, it was officially closed in 2003 along with the Watford West and Croxley Green stations, but seems to have stopped running to passengers some time in the 1990s, although exactly when is unclear.
If you can remember using the service, or know any more, please write and let us know – particularly if you still have a ticket...
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This Nostalgia column was first published in the Watford Observer on August 2, 2013. The next Nostalgia column – with information about the state of Watford in 1966, the day a Bushey parachutist had a "thrilling experience" - and ended up stuck in a tree in Breconshire for two hours plus a 17th Century visit from the Devil – can be found in tomorrow’s Watford Observer (dated August 9, 2013) or read online here from 4pm next Thursday.
If you have anything to add – or would like to tell us anything you think our readers may enjoy about Watford’s history – we are always pleased to hear from you. Contact Nostalgia, by clicking here firstname.lastname@example.org
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